Out and Out Parties: Provisional Thoughts on Delhi’s Gay Nightlife
Recently, I spent a couple of months exploring some of the marginalized niche nightlife scenes that exist in Delhi. Namely, I looked at queer1, African, and Northeastern party scenes in the Capital. When niche nightlife communities emerge from the mainstream grounded in a specific musical genre – take, for example, the psychedelic trance community – they’re rarely explicitly political. They exist because people enjoy a certain kind of music, certain kinds of drugs, or aesthetic, and the kind of social capital that emerges within their fringe scene. But when niche scenes emerge around a specific identity – be it national, ethnic, or sexual – they are much more likely to have emerged because of processes of social exclusion.
The case of queer Delhi nightlife is a special one. Because broadly speaking, although marginalized, queer Delhiites are able to enter the gates of any venue in the city, provided they have the proper funds and shoes. They lack the outside signifier – race – that so often leads to “Sorry, private party.”
And so queer parties, unlike their African or Northeastern counterparts, aren’t infused with quite the same sense of urgency. People come to drink, to dance, and – of course – to fuck, but it’s not the only place they can go out. Crucially, however, the party may be the only place that they can be out.
As one gay partygoer pointed out to me2 (before coming out to his family and his straight friends) the first semi-public venue in which an urban and relatively affluent young gay man will proclaim his homosexuality is often in the club. Surrounded by a supportive and likeminded community.
In this way, we can see queer nightlife in Delhi as serving a dual role; yes, it’s a party. But it’s also a safe space, a sort of embryo for young gay men to experiment with publically acknowledging their sexuality before proclaiming it openly to the world.
And I write “young gay men”, even after explaining my use of the term “queer” because although most of Delhi’s queer parties may be so in theory and name, the vast majority of attendees are men. Over and over again, I asked3 “where are the lesbians?” The answer, almost exclusively, was a noncommittal shrug. Largely, the gay men at the parties didn’t seem terribly concerned by their absence. A few admitted to me that Delhi’s gay men – much like many of its straight men (or perhaps just most men everywhere) – occasionally fall into misogynistic territory.
One queer party organizer, who we’ll call Mukesh, offered a more nuanced view; lesbians, he suggested, suffer from a double oppression, not only do they face legal and social sanction as a sexual minority,4 but they are simultaneously denied equal access to public space as women. Boys are often free to carouse, though their parents are unlikely to understand the libidinous and lavender nature of the escapades. Young women, on the other hand, are less likely to seek or find parental sanction for late-night shenanigans.
And even when young Delhi lesbians are able to escape mummy-daddy’s warm embrace for a night, a queer party may offer respite from heteronoramativity, but not from patriarchy. As the gay partygoers I previously cited acknowledged, queer parties are not always pleasant for lesbians. Mukesh confessed to me that some lesbians have received unwanted attention from bi-identified men at his parties.
It says something unfortunate about the autonomy of women in Delhi when even a queer party doesn’t provide a space where lesbians are free to socialize in the semi-public sphere without unwanted sexual attention from men.
But to Mukesh’s credit, he responded by introducing cocktail hours for lesbians before some his events, hoping that the earlier hour would allow young lesbians to attend, and the quiet bar space would leave them less open to the advances of others.
But not all of the concerns that lesbians might have before attending queer events in Delhi have to do with the way the men treat them. It might – and I’m working purely from conjecture here – have more to do with the way the men treat each other.
It would be grossly irresponsible of me to even appear to suggest that all, or even most queer parties in Delhi are dodgy cruise venues full of drunk and sweaty men dancing to pounding progressive EDM club-charters and Bollywood remixes, with nothing but sweaty drunk manflesh on their mind.
I attended queer parties that were swank affairs that differed little from any South Delhi and Gurgaon gathering of the mostly English identified cultural elite, accompanied by expensive wine and soulful house music. Others, like the erstwhile Pegs ‘n Pints, had the feel of a good party-night at a local bar, where sex, somewhere else, may be on the table for many attendees, but isn’t really the point of the evening.
But there are those gay parties in Delhi where most of the people there are clearly there for one reason, and that reason is fucking, and they may use copious amounts of alcohol and strobe lights in the pursuit of that mission.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But not being on that mission, myself, I don’t find those parties to be super comfortable places to hang out. I was superfluous to the point of everything that was going on. And so even if lesbians didn’t fear any overt attention, it seems entirely possible that lesbians may simply not find these parties to be particularly appealing.
My research took place through events, which were largely attended by gay men and a sprinkling of mostly Northeastern F to M trans people5. For this reason, I spoke to very few lesbians as part of my work. Though I sought out and interviewed lesbians for the research, none who spoke with me were generally engaged in nightlife. I would love to hear from any party lesbians out there who want to set the record straight, because this story is missing a piece without your perspective.
Delhi’s queer nightlife is a fascinating and contested space, riven by class division and confronted by changes in the way that technology6 finds its way into our sex lives. I’ll be continuing to explore those issues on glossier pages, but with any luck, you’ll be able to find the links right here.
written by Kerry Harwin
1 I use the term “queer” in this post to speak inclusively of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual community, in addition to any future “gender queer” letters that may be added to the ever-expanding LGBTQ acronym.
2 Due to the sensitive nature of the subject and our lack of a legal team here at Border Movement, my sources shall remain anonymous in this post.
3 As so many straight men do.
4 The legal status of lesbians in India is unclear. Case law seems to suggest that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code applies exclusively to penetrative sex. We are not lawyers, but a casual search does not reveal any rulings on the applicability of the Section to consensual sex between women. If any legal experts out there read this and have more to say on the matter, I’d love to get an email from you. That said, given other discriminatory practices in housing, employment, healthcare, marriage rights, inheritance, and elsewhere that are either explicitly state-sanctioned or tolerated by police and courts, we feel comfortable using the phrase “state sanction”, regardless of the legal status of lesbian sex under Section 377.
5 Yes, this is the right term. I cringe equally when using it and when not allowing a group of people to decide how they wish to be identified, so I err on the side of their liberty to self-appellation.